Making Moves to Enhance Academics

North Mississippi teachers attend UM chess workshop

Bobby Poole (right) helps north Mississippi teachers improve their chess game during an instructional workshop hosted by the UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education. Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – This week, 26 teachers from across northern Mississippi gathered at the University of Mississippi‘s Jackson Avenue Center to learn how to teach chess to students in their schools.

The event was hosted by the UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education and facilitated by Jeff Bulington, of Franklin County Chess and president of the Mississippi Chess Association. In March 2017, the chess program in Franklin County schools was featured on CBS’s “60 Minutes” as an innovative example of improving academics.

While chess has been proven to increase academic performance, it’s not just a game for the intellectually astute, Bulington said.

“Resilience and grit triumph over academic ability alone,” he said. “No matter how smart one is, it’s the work that matters. If you don’t work, you’re not going to get very far – in chess or in life.”

Assisted by Bobby Poole and Teresa Bee, two chess instructors from Franklin County, Bulington alternately combined audiovisuals and lecture to demonstrate the rules and strategies of the game. Joshua Griffin, a senior from Franklin County High School and the reigning Mississippi High School Boys Chess Champion, also aided Bulington.

Having earlier introduced the five types of chess pieces – knight, rook, bishop, queen and king – and how they are placed upon the board, Bulington emphasized the importance of notation during tournament play.

Julie James (left) assistant director of professional learning in the UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education, and Alice Steimle, the center’s associate director, ponder chess moves during a two-day workshop that helped north Mississippi teachers learn to teach the game to their students. Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

On Monday (July 15), participants were taught the basics of chess and how to foster and implement the game in the classroom. Tuesday’s sessions focused on making connections and academic strategies between mathematics and chess.

“Integrating chess into schools has become a topic of great interest to teachers since the Mississippi High School Activities Association recently named chess an official sport,” said Julie James, CMSE assistant director of professional learning.

Attendees participated in mock games, explored chess resources and were instructed in creating a chess team. One exercise included placing chess pieces in the correct order on the board while following the rules of the game.

“The goal is to put them in order in the least amount of moves possible,” said Lauren Simpson, of Grenada, a CMSE graduate research fellow monitoring the class. “I learned how to make basic moves when I was a child, but nothing further until now.”

Participating schools represented at the workshop included North Pontotoc, Clinton, Starkville, Enterprise, Hernando, Shannon, Poplar Springs, Oxford, Saltillo, Neshoba, Alcorn, Raymond, Lake Comorant, Ackerman, Mendenhall and Mantachie.